Campaign 2008 Series: John Edwards

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

MODERATOR:  Good afternoon.  Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations.  We are delighted that John Edwards is here to speak to us today.  I've been asked to use this opportunity to give you all a brief overview of the Council's special 2008 Initiative.  All of the presidential candidates have been invited to address Council members in New York or Washington.  And this is the first of what we expect will be a series of appearances by the people vying for the Republican and Democratic nominations. 

Candidates have also been invited to use the Council as a non-partisan resource on foreign policy issues.  The Council is happy to arrange private briefings on issues of their choice for any candidate who wishes to take advantage.  The Council's journal, "Foreign Affairs," will also run a series of articles by the candidates beginning in the July-August issue. 

Finally, launching today, the Council's excellent website,, will have a dedicated Campaign 2008 section that features exclusive interviews with the candidates, transcripts of speeches and debates, as well as issue briefs on the range of foreign policy issues that will present themselves to the next president.  We expect this -- the Council expects this to be THE resource on foreign policy issues in the campaign.  It's in this context -- of this special Campaign 2008 initiative, that the Council is pleased to welcome Senator Edwards. 

A few brief items of housekeeping:  I'd like to remind everyone that this event is on the record.  Participants around the nation, and indeed around the world, are watching via webcast and may ask questions that way.  And please remember to turn off all your cell phones, Blackberries, wireless devices, lest you be embarrassed by them ringing while the Senator is speaking. 

You all have Senator Edwards' biography, and more to the point, I think most of you probably know it pretty well so I won't waste any time recapping it here.  I do want to say that while Senator Edwards is probably better known for his focus on domestic policy, I've seen him talk three times on foreign policy since the 2004 election -- in particular about Russia here, about China and about Darfur.  And each time I've come away impressed with the depth of his understanding, his seriousness about these issues, and also his originality as a thinker about foreign policy.

I'll also say that my interest was peaked watching the Democratic debate last month in South Carolina when Brian Williams asked all the candidates if they believe that the global war on terror -- well, if they believed in the global war on terror.  And I believe that Senator Edwards, along with Dennis Kucinich, was the only candidate who didn't raise his hand.  Among other subjects today, I think he may explain a little bit about what he meant by that answer. 

So please welcome Senator Edwards.


JOHN EDWARDS:  Thank you, Jacob, very much.  And it's a great pleasure for me to be back at the Council, and I thank the Council for inviting me and the other candidates -- and I thank Richard for his leadership here at the Council.

You know I had the great pleasure last year of co-chairing a taskforce with Jack Kemp on U.S.-Russia relations.  And the experience, for me, served as powerful reminder of what can be done when we have -- bring together good people, smart people, experienced people with divergent views, but who are bound in a common belief -- which I think was certainly true in that taskforce -- about America's global responsibilities and the need for America to provide leadership in the world. 

Our main conclusions on that -- in that taskforce are just as relevant today with what's happening with Russia today, which is that Russia's direction is critically important to America's national security for everything from energy to nonproliferation to the spread of HIV/AIDS.  And as our report's title made clear, Russia's been headed in the wrong direction -- whether it's the de-democratization of Russia or the bullying of its neighbors. 

Now, I'm not saying -- and didn't say then, don't say now -- that we should needlessly poke our finger in their eye, but we need to be clear about our interests and what we can do together with Russia to address the global problems that all of us face.  You know we've not, unfortunately, been able to focus, from my perspective, an adequate amount of attention and energy on critical issues like getting our relationship with Russia right.  Instead, we've been distracted -- understandably distracted about larger problems created by this president's military and national security policy, which I'm going to speak about today.

The core of this presidency has been a political doctrine that George Bush calls "the global war on terror."  He's used this doctrine like a sledgehammer to justify the worst abuses and biggest mistakes of his administration -- from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib to the war in Iraq.  The worst thing about the "global war on terror" approach is that it's backfired.  Our military's been strained to the breaking point and the threat from terrorism has grown, not lessened. 

We need a post-Bush, post-9/11, post-Iraq American military that is mission-focused on protecting Americans from 21st century threats and is not misused for ideologically-driven pursuits.  We need to recognize that we have more powerful weapons -- far more powerful weapons available to us than just bombs, and we need to bring those weapons to bear in our foreign policy. 

We need to reengage the world with the full weight of America's moral leadership.  What we need is not more slogans.  What we need is a comprehensive strategy to deal with the complex challenge of both delivering justice and being just.  Not hard power, not soft power, smart power.  Nowhere are the problems of this administration's policies more tragically evident than they are in Iraq.  Iraq's problems are deep and dangerous, but they cannot be solved by the U.S. military alone -- that's become clear. 

My plan calls on Congress to use its funding power to stop the surge; enforce an immediate withdrawal of 40 (thousand) to 50,000 combat troops from Iraq followed by an orderly and complete withdrawal of all combat troops in just less than a year.  The president has played political brinksmanship over the war in Iraq and he's done it over and over and over.  He refuses to acknowledge the futility of his approach; he disregards the clear message that was sent by the American people last fall in the elections; and he falsely claims that the only way for Congress to support the troops is to prolong the war.  This is wrong and it is absolutely not true. 

Congress can support the troops and end the war, which exactly what the bill that they sent to the president last month did.  When the president vetoed that bill, it was the president alone who was blocking support for the troops, no one else; it was President Bush.  Any compromise that funds the war through the end of fiscal year is not a compromise at all -- it's a capitulation.  Every member of Congress -- every member of Congress should stand their ground on this issue and do everything in their power to block this bill.  As I've said repeatedly, Congress should send President Bush another bill funding the troops, supporting the troops, with a timetable for withdrawal.  If the president vetoes that bill, they should send him another bill funding the troops with a timetable for withdrawal.

The American people have made absolutely clear that they -- and have sent the Congress a mandate -- they want a different course in Iraq.  It is the responsibility of the Congress to do the will of the country and to stand firm against this president.  Unfortunately, we have a president who's obstinate, stubborn and believes he can do no wrong, and we need the Congress to do the will of the American people.  We need to get out of Iraq on our timetable, not when we're forced to do so by our enemies or by events. 

As a recent Council report put it, the U.S. has already achieved what it's likely to achieve in Iraq, and staying in Iraq can only drive up the price of those gains in blood, treasure, and strategic position.  Iraq has done tremendous damage to the U.S. interests in the Middle East, our military, and last but not least, to our moral authority in the world.  It's also completely consumed our country's foreign policy debate.  In Congress and the White House, the focus has been on when to get out, how to get out and how quickly to get out.  Too little consideration has been given to what happens after we get out -- and that is the very least we owe to the men and women of the U.S. armed forces and their families who have sacrificed so much and continue to sacrifice so much today. 

I believe that once we're out of Iraq, the U.S. must retain sufficient forces in the region to prevent a genocide; to deter a regional spill-over of the civil war; and to prevent an al-Qaeda safe-haven.  We will most likely need to retain quick action -- quick reaction troops in Kuwait and in the Persian Gulf.  We also need some presence in Baghdad -- inside the Green Zone to protect the American embassy and other personnel. 

Finally, we'll need a diplomatic offensive to engage the rest of the world in Iraq's future, including Middle Eastern nations and our allies in Europe.  As everyone in this room knows, the Iraq war has made it far more difficult for America to deal with its other global challenges, whether it's the worsening situation in Afghanistan where the Taliban is resurgent, poppy heroin trade up; the nuclear ambitions of states like North Korea and Iran; the crises in Darfur and northern Uganda; they offered (sic) to help bring peace between Israel and its neighbors; the growing economic and security threats from global warming; the plight of over 1 billion people in the world who live on less than $1 a day, or the vast implications of the political and economic rise of states like India and China; and the negative trends in Russia which I spoke about a few minutes ago. 

Throughout this campaign I've spoken about what we need to do to deal with these huge challenges.  In the future I'll continue to chart a course for America to regain the global stature and legitimacy that we'll need to lead and shape the world our children and grandchildren will inherit.  But that course begins with an understanding of power and its purpose, in all its forms -- political, economic, moral and, yes, military power.  The great Dean Acheson once said that "Prestige is the shadow cast by power."  If that's so, we risk squandering our prestige, as the current administration has done, if we continue to misuse and misdirect the extraordinary power that America has.

I'll also talk more specifically about what I intend to do as commander in chief to lead our great military and restore the contract that we have with those who proudly wear the uniform to defend our country and to make not only America but the world a safer place.  Leading the military out of the wreckage left by the poor civilian leadership in this administration will be the single most important duty of the next commander in chief. 

The next commander in chief faces several important questions for the future:  How will we rebuild our military force -- what must everyone -- what must every -- excuse me -- which most everyone agrees has been so severely stressed, if not broken, by the debacle in Iraq?  What lessons have we learned about how the military should be used over the last several years?  And what is the right role for our military as we seek to restore America's moral leadership in the world?

The answers to these questions are what I'd like to talk about today.  I can think of no better time to have this discussion than in the days leading up to Memorial Day and the Memorial Day weekend.  This is a day that is more meaningful than ball games and barbecues, it's a time when we honor those who have sacrificed so much for our country.  Memorial Day has always had a specific meaning in our own family.  Elizabeth, my wife, grew up on military bases around the world -- she's the daughter of a Naval aviator from the U.S.S. Quincy.  Elizabeth's father Vince took part in the first bombing runs of Japan during World War II.  Later, after the war, Elizabeth and her parents returned to live in Japan where her dad was stationed. 

World War II was not simply a moment of military glory, a moment of triumph for the citizen soldier -- it was much more than that.  The generation that won World War II is not called the "greatest generation" because of the victory they earned on the battlefield, but because of what they did with that victory -- of what they gave to us and what they gave to the world.  Military power without purpose is ultimately self-defeating.  Our active engagement in the world after World War II is an example of why we need a strong military.  It reveals the relationship between the strength of our military and the power of American ideals.  It reveals what America needs today, which is to marry our strengths -- our military strength, our economic strength, and our political strength with the moral authority to lead.  

Think about the chances our wise leaders made -- choices our wise leaders made -- in 1945.  It would have been easy enough for America to glance at the devastation and just quickly look the other way.  We and our allies had helped save the world from Nazism and fascism.  We were wealthy and we were safe.  Many thought it was time for us to go home but, Americans like Harry Truman -- President Harry Truman and General George Marshall saw the truth.  They would require not only American military might, but our ingenuity, our allies, and our generosity to rebuild Europe and keep it safe from tyrants who would prey on poverty and resentment. 

Our leaders resisted the imperial temptation to force our will by virtue of our unmatched strength.  Instead, they built bonds of trust founded on restraint, the rule of law and good faith.  They were magnanimous out of strength, not weakness.  General Marshall, one of this country's greatest military leaders, was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership in rebuilding Europe and promoting peace in the world.  In his Nobel acceptance speech, General Marshall said that military power was, quote, "too narrow a basis on which to build a dependable, long-enduring peace."  As the Marshall Plan demonstrated, the military is only a means to an end.  It is only one instrument of American power.  It must work alongside and reinforce America's moral leadership.

We saw the power of this relationship during the Cold War when America deterred the Soviet Union from its quest for world domination.  We saw it when we established the United Nations and NATO, which have done so much for peace and for human rights.  And after the Cold War, we saw it in Bosnia where we helped broker a lasting peace.  And then we saw it again in Kosovo, where we joined our NATO allies to stop a brutal war criminal from perpetrating another campaign of ethnic cleansing.  This is the America that I grew up in.  This is the America I saw as a young boy -- a strong nation whose moral promise to fill the hearts, and did fill the hearts, of almost everyone.  We believed that America, like a beacon, was a light -- a light for the rest of the world. 

As we all saw six years ago on September 11th, America's greatness alone does not protect us from attack.  At that moment, the president could have -- could have -- sent a message of swift justice, but also combined with moral leadership.  He could have told us where destroying al-Qaeda fit into the broader challenges America faces in the new century.  He could have asked all Americans to sacrifice in this new struggle, inviting a whole new era of citizenship as the ultimate answer to these terrorists' cynical, evil attack. But he didn't.  Instead, he adopted the most short-sighted ideological policies available.  His strategy has put severe strain on America's military; tarnished our moral standing in the world; and it's unfortunately emboldened our enemies. 

It is now clear that George Bush -- George Bush's misnamed "War on Terror" has backfired -- and it's now part of the problem.  I know that President Bush just spoke on this and so I want to be clear.  The War on Terror is a slogan designed only for politics. It is not a strategy to make America safe.  It's a bumper sticker, not a plan.  It has damaged our alliances and has weakened our standing in the world.  As a political frame, it's been used to justify so many abuses that have occurred under this administration, from Guantanamo, to the war in Iraq, to illegal spying on American people.  It's even been used by the White House as an instrument to bludgeon their political opponents.  Whether by manipulating threat levels leading up to the elections or by deeming opponents weak on terror, they've shown no hesitation whatsoever about using fear to divide.  

But the worst thing about this slogan is it hasn't worked.  This so-called "war" has created even more terrorism, as we've seen tragically in Iraq.  The State Department itself recently released a study showing that worldwide terrorism increased 25 percent in 2006, including a 40 percent surge in civilian fatalities.  By framing this as a war, we've walked right into the trap that the terrorists set -- that we're engaged in some kind of clash of civilizations in a war against Islam.  The "war" metaphor also fails because it exaggerates the role of only one instrument of American power -- the military.  This has occurred, in part, because the military is so effective in what it does.  Yet, if you think that all we have is a hammer, then unfortunately every problem looks like a nail. 

There's an emerging consensus inside the armed forces that we have to move beyond this idea of a war on terror.  The commander of the U.S. military's Central Command recently stated that he would no longer use the phrase "long war."  Top military leaders like retired General Zinni have rejected the term.  These leaders know we need substance, not slogans; leadership, not labels.  The question is, what should replace the War on Terror? 

Since the end of the world war -- of the Cold War, folks here at CFR and elsewhere have been engaged in a effort to be "the next George Kennan" and redefine the era.  As all of you know, we need a new strategy for rebuilding a strong military for a new century.  Any new strategy must include new preventive measures to win the long-term struggle and to fuel hope and opportunity.  This includes strong and creative diplomacy and also new efforts to lead the fight against global poverty.  I proposed a plan to lead an international effort to educate every child in the world -- over 100 million children.  As president, I would increase foreign assistance by $5 billion a year to make millions of people safer, healthier, more democratic and I would create a cabinet-level position to oversee this effort.  

Any new strategy must improve how we gather intelligence.  From years on the Senate Intelligence Committee, I know how difficult this can be.  We must always seek to protect our national security by aggressively gathering intelligence in accordance with proven methods -- methods that work.  Yet we cannot do this by abandoning human rights and the rule of law.  Two former generals recently wrote in the Washington Post, "If we forfeit our values by signaling that they are negotiable, we drive undecideds into the arms of the enemy." 

And we must avoid actions that will give terrorists, or even other nations, an excuse to abandon international law.  As president I will close Guantanamo Bay, restore habeas corpus, and ban torture.  Measures like these will help America once again achieve its historic moral stature and lead the world toward democracy and peace.

And finally, a new strategy must have a clear idea of how to rebuild the U.S. military.  For the last four years, the administration has not only mismanaged the war in Iraq, it's actually mismanaged the military itself -- it's an extraordinary, historical irony actually.  The president and his team held themselves out as these great stewards and experts in the military.  During his campaign in 2000, then-Governor Bush went to the Citadel in South Carolina and said our military powers should be used, and I quote, "wisely, remembering the costs of war." 

His team came into office with decades of experience.  They promised that, quote, "help was on the way."  They made bold pronouncements about new military doctrines like "transformation" and "an end to nation-building."  They held themselves out as saviors, called themselves "Vulcans," and cast their opponents as amateurs who should bow down before their slogans and gestures.  They even disregarded the advice of highly decorated military officers themselves.  The results have been a complete disaster.  This administration's policies have been particularly hard on the men and women of our military and their families.  President Bush could have called on Americans to sacrifice, but the only ones who've been at war -- the only ones asked to sacrifice have been our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines and their families.  This is not right.

I'm here today to announce a new pledge to America's servicemen and women, to their families and to our veterans, "We will stand by you just as you have stood by us."  As president, I'll implement a defense policy that's based on five major principles:    First, ensuring that our military policy is planned and executed to fulfill essential national security missions, not some ideological fantasy; second, repairing the tremendous damage done to the civil-military relations; third, rooting out cronyism and waste and increasing efficiency in the Pentagon; fourth, rebalancing our force structure for the challenges of this new century, including improving our capabilities to help weak or failing nations; and taking a broader -- finally, taking a broader view of security throughout our government.  With this -- these steps, we can begin to rebuild an American military for the new century. 

First, we have to clarify the mission of a post-Bush, post-9/11, post-Iraq American military for the 21st Century.  We must be clear, first, about when it's appropriate for a commander in chief to use force.  As president, I will only use offensive force after all other options, including diplomacy, have been exhausted -- and after we've made efforts to bring as many countries as possible to our side.  However, there are times when force is justified:  to protect our vital national interests; to respond to acts of aggression by other nations and non-state actors; to protect treaty allies and alliance commitments; to prevent terrorists from acquiring nuclear weapons; and to prevent or stop genocide. 

But we have to remember that the complimentary relationship between the military force and diplomacy is crucial.  Too often during the past six years this administration's diplomatic efforts have left the U.S. with two unacceptable options:  to do nothing or to use force.  We have to do better than that.  We should always seek to solve problems peacefully -- preferably working with others.  Yet one of the oldest rules of statecraft is that diplomacy is most effective when it's backed up by a strong military.  This does not mean, however, that every problem needs a military answer -- far from it. 

Our military has three important missions:  deterring and responding to aggressors; making sure that weak and failing states do not threaten our interests; and maintaining our strategic advantage against major competitors.  The first mission is deterring or responding to those who wish to do us harm.  I want to make one thing absolutely clear:  any American president must be able to act with swiftness and strength against anyone who would do us harm.  But by elevating this right -- which has existed forever, to a doctrine of preventive war, this administration has only isolated America further. 

Our goal has to be to defeat Islamic extremists and limit their reach, not to help them recruit and become stronger.  There's an entire new generation of young people sitting on the fence right now:  on one side are the terrorists, on one -- or the other side are America and its allies.  And the question is, on which side will this generation go?  It's America's responsibility to attract them to our side like a magnet. 

Our second mission is to ensure that the problems of weak and failing states do not create dangers for the United States.  We face substantial security threats from states that fall apart.  These situations are not only dangerous for those countries' civilian populations, but they create regional instability and can strengthen terrorist groups that, in turn, directly threaten the United States.

A third mission is maintaining our strategic advantage against major competitor states that could do us harm and otherwise threaten our interests.  In all of these missions we must continue to strengthen our great partnerships -- whether bilateral relationships with friends like Great Britain, to Israel, to Japan; or, through institutions like NATO, which have done so much good for America and the world.  While the U.S. does not need permission to protect its interests, we have to realize that our strength lies in standing together with the world -- not isolated and apart from the world. 

Next, we have to reestablish our strong connection with military leadership.  The past few years have brought extraordinary crises in civil-military relations in this government.  The mismanagement at the Pentagon has been so severe that many of our most decorated retired officers are now speaking out.  Our constitutional design is absolutely clear -- and our military leadership clearly must follow civilian command, but this does not mean that civilians should be able to ram-through their pet military projects.  George Bush's civilian leadership at the Pentagon repeatedly -- repeatedly -- ignored the counsel of their more experienced colleagues.  They disregarded wise generals like Ric Shinses -- Shinseski -- Shin-seski (laughs) -- I'll say it right eventually -- who advised that hundreds of thousands of troops should be needed to secure the peace in Iraq.  He was right.  He was right all along. 

As president, I'll repair this breach.  I'll institute regular, one-on-one meetings with my top military leadership so their analysis and advice will not be filtered and I'll be able to hear it directly.  And so I'll have the best information about what's actually happening with our troops on the ground -- not coming through others.

I'll also reinstate a basic doctrine that's been demolished by the Bush administration.  Under my administration military professionals will have primary responsibility in issues of tactics and operations, while civilian leadership will have authority in all matters of broad strategy and political decisions.  As president, I'll exercise command and I will delegate the decision to use force to absolutely no one.  But I will also remove any civilian or military officers who stifle debate or simply tell me what it is they think I want to hear. 

The administration's mismanagement of the military has not only breached the faith at the highest level, it's led to an extraordinarily dangerous situation for our troops, for their families, and ultimately, for America.  The military that's fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan is very different than those that have gone to battle before.  Today, active-duty service men and women are, on average, 27 years old; Guard and Reserve members, on average, 33 years old.  Sixty percent of those deployed have left families at home and about 50 percent of those killed in action have left a spouse or child behind. 

Alarmingly high rates of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are being reported.  These troops are exhausted and they're overworked.  And we've been forced to dig deeper and deeper to find ground forces for Iraq and Afghanistan -- it leaves us very ill-prepared for the future.

Today, every available active-duty Army combat brigade has been to Iraq or Afghanistan for at least 12 months -- for at least one 12-month tour.  We're sending some troops back to Iraq with less than a year's rest.  And to make all these matters worse, the secretary of Defense just extended tours from 12 to 15 months, which is unconscionable.  Recruiting has suffered.  The Army has been meeting its recruiting targets, but only by lowering its standards.  Recruits from the least-skilled category have increased 800 percent over the past two years.  And the Army granted nearly twice as many waivers for felonies and other shortcomings in 2006 as it did in 2003. 

Finally, it's clear that Guard and Reserve members will always play an active and very valuable role in the total force of the United States.  Yet, they've been subjected to repeated and lengthy deployments that do not fit their job description.  This is not what they signed up for.  And as the disgraceful conditions at Walter Reed demonstrated, this administration has failed our service men and women not only in Iraq but also here at home.  I will never allow our wounded to be housed in dilapidated, rodent-infested facilities.  On the contrary, as I'll be announcing in remarks later this week, I'll make a new pledge to our veterans to meet our sacred responsibility to them -- to them, our service men and women and their families -- that our benefits, support service and readjustment programs properly meet their needs.  We owe them no less.

The problem of our force structure is not best dealt with by a numbers game.  It is very tempting for politicians to try and outbid each other on the number of troops that they would add to our military forces.  Some politicians have fallen right in line behind President Bush and his recent proposal to add 92,000 troops between now and 2012 with little rationale for exactly why we need this many troops, particularly in light of a likely withdrawal from Iraq.  The numbers games only get us to the same problems as the president's approach.  We have to be more thoughtful about what these troops will actually be used for.  Any troops we add today would take a number of years to recruit and train, and so that will not help us today in Iraq.  We might need a substantial increase in troops in the Army, Marine Corps and Special Forces for at least four reasons:  to rebuild Iraq; to bolster deterrence; to decrease our heavy reliance on Guard and Reserve members in the military; and to deploy in Afghanistan and any other trouble spots that may develop.  While such proposals are worth very close examination, they do not take into account what is obvious, that America will be leaving Iraq.  And I believe that needs to occur over the next year.  We need to avoid talking about numbers simply for political benefit and instead take a broader view. 

As president, I will carefully assess the post-Iraq threat environment and consult with military commanders to determine the exact number of troops we need and where.  I'll also double the budget for recruiting and raise the standards for the recruiting pool so we issue fewer waivers than we do today under the president's policy.  I'll put substantial additional resources into maintenance of our equipment and to reset the force.  We must spend what it takes to reset our force after Iraq.  We've seen a rapid depletion in our military equipment.  Over 1,000 vehicles, including tanks and helicopters, have been lost in Iraq.  And our equipment is being used at a rate of five to six times its peak time use.  This inadequacy is especially clear when we look at the demands that have been placed on our Guard and Reserve members.  They've been sent to battle without the best equipment.  Some units slated to return to Iraq recently reported that they have outdated equipment.  This is completely unacceptable for us to send men and women, putting their lives at risk, without the equipment that they're entitled to.

The military budget itself also needs substantial reforms.  Today, dozens of agencies perform overlapping tasks, and there is no central, overall accounting of all security activities performed by all relevant agencies.  I'll create a national security budget that will include all security activities by the Pentagon and the Department of Energy and our Homeland Security, intelligence and foreign affairs agency.  This would allow more oversight, and it will allow us to more carefully tailor our expenditures to the missions we're confronted with.

Today, literally dozens of agencies have overlapping responsibilities, missions, tasks and programs.  We don't link these efforts together the way we should.  We have nuclear proliferation programs in the Defense, State and the Energy Departments.  We have more than 15 different security assistance programs running out of both the State Department and the Defense Department. 

As president, I'll send to Congress a national security budget that will grow out of a review of our military, our diplomacy, our foreign assistance programs, our intelligence, our global energy and our homeland security activities.  This budget will provide one government-wide strategy for countering proliferation, a unified strategy for fighting terrorists, a unified strategy for providing security assistance to our allies and clear guidance for our agencies on how they should set their budget priorities to make all these policies work together.

The military has gone a long way in making sure that it is capable and prepared to fight humanitarian crises as we've seen when it provided aid to the victims of the tsunami.  But this aid is often imbalanced.  We've got one agency on steroids -- the Pentagon -- while the civilian agencies are on life support.  As president, I'll help rebuild the delivery of civilian services throughout the federal government.  Civilians with training and experience need to be involved in stabilizing states with weak governments and providing humanitarian assistance where it's needed.  We need bankers to set up financial systems, political scientists to implement election systems and civil engineers to design water and power systems.  As president, I'll create a marshal corps modeled on the military reserves of up to 10,000 expert professionals who will help stabilize weak societies and provide humanitarian assistance.  

I'll also take the additional steps to put stabilization first throughout the government.  I'll put a senior official in the Pentagon to implement these programs.  I'll harmonize the State Department and Pentagon's overlapping efforts (through ?) diplomacy and stabilization.  And I'll implement new stabilization programs at war colleges and staff colleges. 

Just as we need to get our national security budget in order, we also have to reform our Pentagon budget.  The Bush administration has funneled an enormous amount of taxpayer money to private military contractors, many of whom were run by their own friends and political cronies.  It's no surprise that we've seen rampant overruns in the cost of many weapons programs.  I will respond to these overruns and cronyism strongly and directly.  We need a modern-day equivalent of Harry Truman's famous Truman Committee which traveled the country in the 1940s to find billions of dollars of waste in military spending.  As president, I'll direct my secretary of Defense to launch a comprehensive, tough review of fraud, waste and abuse and to put an end to it.  One example is missile defense and offensive-based space weapons which are costly and unlikely to work.

We also need fundamental reform in our privatization policies.  Almost half of Defense Department contracts are now awarded on a non-competitive basis, giving companies like Haliburton millions of dollars.  To end this, I'll direct my secretary of Defense to overhaul the rules governing privatization, to punish mismanagement and to reform DOD bonus policies to reward performance.

Finally, I'll challenge the military to continue to modernize for a new century.  We need to ensure that the U.S. military is the most modern and capable fighting force on the planet.  Modernization will also have other benefits.  (Greening ?) the military will increase innovation, save millions of dollars, reduce reliance on vulnerable supply lines and help America lead the fight against global warming. 

We also must do what we can to prevent these problems before they arise.  That's why I believe it's so important for us to address issues like global poverty.  The reforms that I announced a couple of months ago would help stabilize at-risk nations and spread the dream of freedom across the globe and, in the process, re-establish America as a force for good in the world.  Today we need great principles, moral courage and, above all, a vision of a tomorrow that's better than today, of a world where the power of example is mightier than the sword.  We need a strong military for a new century, and we need one based on hope, not fear.  As Robert F. Kennedy once wrote, "Our answer is the world's hope."  We will need imagination and courage to imagine great possibilities, to create a world where terrorism belongs to the past.  We must, at the same time, rely on our heritage, a time when we were admired by the world, where we shared with generosity and good faith our ideals of truth, justice and equality.  Like a beacon, America once again can provide a clear light for the world, dissolving the fog of injustice and illuminating the path to a new century.  This is the America that I grew up in, and it is the America that Elizabeth and I want again to share, not only with our own children but with the children of America and of the world.

Thank you all very much.  God bless America.


MODERATOR:  Thank you, Senator.

EDWARDS:  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  We don't have a lot of time, but I'm going to take the moderator's prerogative and ask you one or two quick questions before we open it up to the members.

You criticized the term and the idea of global war on terror.  You called it a "bumper sticker."  We have not had a significant terrorist attack in the United States since September 11th to my amazement and the surprise of a lot of people.  Don't President Bush and his global war on terror get some credit for that?

EDWARDS:  No, I think actually that phrase was intended to be a political phrase, and it's been used very much as a political phrase.  Do we need a comprehensive, effective strategy for dealing with terrorism in the world?  Of course we do.  But what we know from the State Department report is that last year, 2006, terrorism was up 25 percent.  Anyone paying attention knows that Iraq has been an incredible disaster in terms of providing motivation for the recruitment of terrorists.  And what I'm saying is that if you look at this over the long term, not just the short term, there are two things that America has to do. 

We have to combine our military strength -- and I discussed that at some length today -- our economic strength and our political strength with the moral authority that allows us to lead.  It makes us a leader worthy of following.  And we've seen a deterioration in our military capacity because of all the damage that's been done to our military as a result of Iraq.  And we've seen an extraordinary deterioration in our moral authority to lead.  I mean, the world thinks America's a bully right now.  That's the way they think about us, and they think of us as selfish.  And unless and until we reestablish ourselves as a country that's not only strong, not only powerful -- which is absolutely necessary for leadership -- but also as a country that the world sees as understanding its responsibility to the world and to humanity, the rest of the world won't follow us.  And when they don't follow us, we can't provide the stability, and we're the only country in the world that has the capacity to be the stabilizing agent, to be the country around which the rest of the world rallies when crises occur.

MODERATOR:  I have to ask you about the eternal subject of the Iraq war vote.  You said your vote in favor was a mistake.  Senator Clinton has not gone that far.  It's a very contentious issue.  I've also seen you quoted saying that you learned to trust your judgment more as a result of that vote.  Now, I understand that Bob Shrum, who is a former adviser to you and to Senator Kerry in the last campaign, has a book coming out.  And he says that he helped persuade you to make that vote in favor of the war against your instincts and actually against the advice of your wife.  Is that version right?  Is that how it happened?

EDWARDS:  No.  What actually happened was that there were two things going on inside me as I was making that decision.  One is an evaluation of whether Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and whether he was trying to acquire additional weapons of mass destruction.  I received a lot of information directly as a member of the Senate and as a member of the Intelligence Committee about that issue from the intelligence community.  I also had a long series of meetings with high-level members of the Clinton administration who remembering, putting this back historically, hadn't been out of office very long at that point, who essentially confirmed what I was hearing on the Intelligence Committee.  So I made the decision that he had biological and chemical weapons and was attempting to acquire nuclear weapons.  It was wrong as it turned out. 

There was a second component to this, though, for me, which was I had a huge internal conflict about whether to give a president who I didn't trust this authority.  And I didn't trust him.  I was worried that he had an ideological agenda.  I was worried that he would not bring the rest of the world into this effort in the lead-up to whatever action was taken in Iraq.  And I made the decision on balance to give the president of the United States this authority.  I was wrong on both counts, and I have to take responsibility for that. 

I will add, though, and I think this is, at least from my perspective, is important.  I think we do need a president who's willing to both be honest with the country, be open and to recognize when they've made a mistake.  Now, I think what we've seen over the last six-plus years is a president who's incapable of recognizing that he's made a mistake, even a very serious mistake.  And I think America and the world have paid a huge price for that.

MODERATOR:  At this point, I'd like to open it up to members.  Please wait for the microphone to come to you, and state your name and your affiliation when you're called on.

Sir in the middle there.

And please keep questions brief.  We'd like to get in as many as possible.  We don't have a lot of time.

QUESTIONER:  Yes, thank you.  Robert Cohen, Princeton University.

You've spoken, Senator, about the need for American moral leadership and for the United States to collaborate with its allies.  You haven't mentioned specific international organizations which might constrain us.  What is your view toward American policy toward the United Nations, the International Criminal Court and other security institutions which the United States does not control?

EDWARDS:  I don't see those as constraining.  I see those as structures that provide an opportunity for America.  The United Nations, obviously, provides us with an opportunity.  The International Criminal Court, which America should be supporting and active in, provides us with another opportunity.

My view about this is that there are, I would describe it as three broad areas for reestablishment of America's moral leadership in the world, which I think is crucial for the long-term security of the world.  One is I think the president of the United States is going to have some personal responsibility to travel the world, to speak to the world in a way that reestablishes, in a positive way, a relationship between the president of the United States and the remainder of the world, to talk about American values, equality, opportunity, that we believe in diversity which I think a lot of the world doesn't see right now. 

And then second, I think we're going to have to demonstrate through our action that we're willing to meet our commitment to humanity, whether it's in Darfur, whether it's the spread of HIV/AIDS, whether it's in northern Uganda, whether all the things that I've talked about -- helping lead an effort to make education available, clean drinking water, et cetera, economic development.  And then the third component -- this goes to the question you're asking -- the third component is the rest of the world has to perceive America, while strong, as a country that is engaged in a positive way with the international community.  And I think the International Criminal Courts, NATO, the United Nations all provide us with an opportunity to show that while we'll make the decisions ultimately that we believe are the right decisions for America and the world, that we respect what other people in the world think.  And I think that's been tremendously eroded over the last six-plus years.

MODERATOR:  Ma'am in the third row -- yes.

QUESTIONER:  Annette Gordon-Reed, New York Law School.

There are upsides and downsides to every decision.  Do you see any downsides to announcing a date certain when the United States will leave Iraq?

EDWARDS:  You're right, there are upsides and downsides to everything.  Here's my view.  I think if the assembly leadership, as disorganized as they are, and the Shi'a leadership, as weak as it seems to be under Maliki, if they don't feel the responsibility, if they don't see that there will be significant consequences of their failure to compromise and reach some kind of serious political reconciliation, there can never be peace and security on the ground in Iraq.  And I think if we don't set a timetable for withdrawal of American troops -- now, there are some people, as you know, who are for -- including some people in my party -- who are for an immediate and total withdrawal from Iraq.  I don't think that's the right thing to do.  I think what we want to do is we want to make it clear we're going to leave.  Let them know over what period of time we're going to do it.  Do it in an orderly way.  Then I think we want to do everything in our power to enhance their process of reaching some compromise.  That has to be done I think simultaneous with the engagement of other countries in the region. 

And to be very specific, we ought to engage the Iranians and the Syrians very directly on this issue.  I saw that I think there's a scheduled meeting next week at the embassy in Baghdad.  And I'm just glad to see that there's some progress in that direction.  But I think we need to do more than that.  I mean, the Iranians have a very clear interest in a stable Iraq if America's leaving.  I mean, for multiple reasons -- they don't want refugees coming across their western border, they don't want this conflict, if it were to spill outside the borders of Iraq.  I mean, they're Shi'a in a Sunni-dominated Muslim world.  They do not want to see a broader Middle East conflict between Shi'a and Sunni.  So I think this is the path.  This is the path that makes sense.  But I'd be the first to say that I wish there were clear and good choices.  There aren't.  I mean, we're in a very difficult place. 

MODERATOR:  Senator, let me follow that up with a question from the webcast.  This is from Jeanine Aldret (sp) in California.  And she says, what's your response to the new Iraq war-funding bill the Democrats have proposed, which strips out the timetables for withdrawal?  I think she's referring to the decision yesterday.

EDWARDS:  My response is it's the wrong thing to do.  I think that this president will not change course unless he's forced to change course.  He's made that absolutely clear.  And I think the American people have made it very clear what they want they want to see happen in Iraq.  They want to see us start to withdraw from Iraq, pull our combat troops out of Iraq.  And I think unless the Congress stands its ground, which is what they should do, the only bill they should submit to him in this circumstance is a bill that supports the troops, funds the troops and has a timetable for withdrawal.  And I think America and our men and women -- this is not politics, this is war, this is life and death -- I think it's really crucial for our Congress to stand its ground.

MODERATOR:  Right here on the front row.

QUESTIONER:  I'm Lucy Komisar.  I'm a journalist.

Osama bin Laden got his money through Al-Taqwa Bank which was based in the Bahamas and Switzerland -- an offshore bank.  And this is also -- the offshore system also runs the banks that help impoverish the Third World that you expressed concern about.  Senator Obama has co-sponsored with Senator Levin and Coleman S. 681 which is the first really big attack on the offshore banking system.  Are you familiar with that?  Would you support that?  And if you're not familiar with that bill, what would you do about the offshore system that is used not only for helping the terrorists but for Enron-type corporate fraud, tax evasion, helping dictators, drug traffickers and the like and which this administration has done nothing and actually has back-pedaled since the Clinton administration on dealing with?

MODERATOR:  I think the decided response is yes.  (Laughter.)

EDWARDS:  You know, I've been doing politics long enough that I can't figure some things out, but that one I could figure out.  I've not seen Senator Obama's bill, so I can't speak specifically to that.  I think this is an area that needs attention and needs reform just so that we can control the capacity of terrorist groups and others who mean danger to use banking institutions, financial institutions and so that we don't make things worse while we're trying to deal with issues like global poverty and economic development.  So I think there is reform needed in the area.  I'd have to look specifically at what he's proposing to speak to that.

MODERATOR:  Let's just -- excuse me -- let's just take two more quick questions.


MODERATOR:  In the third row on this side -- you.

EDWARDS:  Thank you.  I'm Cora Weiss with the Hague Appeal for Peace.

Mr. -- I was going to say president -- Senator, when you are president --

EDWARDS:  You'll be able to.  (Laughter.)

QUESTIONER:  -- in keeping with your expression used today that there should be no excuse to abandon international law, and in keeping with the international court's unanimous opinion that all countries should eliminate their nuclear weapons, and in keeping with Mr. Kissinger, Sam Nunn and Schultz' op-ed in The Wall Street Journal calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons, when you are president, what will you do about nuclear weapons given that Mr. Bush has just announced the complex 2030 plan to redesign and develop a new generation of nuclear weapons?

EDWARDS:  Well, let me say first, I think I would want to associate myself with the concepts that are conveyed by Kissinger, Sam Nunn and others in the op-ed piece.  I thought it was very thoughtful.  And I think essentially what they said if I remember -- I don't remember the precise language -- was that we should aspire to a nuclear-free world.  I agree with that.  Now, there are a lot of steps that have to go between here and there.  Some of them are pretty obvious, which is America should not be building new nuclear weapons.  And then I think America should be doing things like leading an international effort to close the holes in the NPT.  There are clearly serious flaws in the NPT.  And I think America, leading an international effort to reduce the supplies nuclear weapons that exist in the United States and in other parts of the world, makes all the sense in the world -- all aimed at the general goal that's described in that piece that you just spoke about.

MODERATOR:  Who has a quick, last question?  Is that Jeff Greenfield I see with his hand up?  Please.

QUESTIONER:  Did 9/11 happen because -- I'm sorry, did September 11th happen because, as the president says often, they hate our freedoms?  Or did Thomas and Ron Paul have at least a academically right point that it happened in response to specific American policies, such as the placement of lots of American troops in a Muslim country and our support for Israel and other stuff?

EDWARDS:  Well, I think the answer is both.  I think there are clearly specific American policies that have created some level of antagonism that in no way justifies the radicalism that has been spawned by it.  And secondly, I think that for some of those in this radical ideology, they hate what America represents, including freedom.  And so I think you can't -- at least in my mind -- you can't separate those things.  I think they're connected to one another.  But you know, we need to be really clear about something, and I've said this in the course of the speech and in an earlier question that you asked about.  I mean, it seems to me that what we want to do as a nation to deal with the issue of terrorism over the long haul is we want to do everything in our power and use every tool available to us -- military, intelligence -- to aggressively find these terrorist operations and to stop them in their tracks before they can do any harm to America or to our allies and be extraordinarily aggressive about that. 

But the second piece of that is we have to have a long-term plan for undermining the efforts that these terrorist groups are engaged in.  And I think dealing with education, dealing with global poverty, all of these things play a role, not only in the direct undermining of the efforts of terrorist organizations but also in attracting others to American leadership.  So I think it's a twofer for us.  It undermines what the terrorists are attempting to accomplish.  I spoke earlier about an entire new generation sitting on the fence.  We want those people to come to us, we don't want them to go the other way.  And I think if we're educating their young people, if we're making sanitation and clean drinking water available to them, if we're dealing with HIV/AIDS, if they see us leading on an issue like genocide in Darfur -- the list goes on and on -- then America is a country worthy of following.

So both in terms of us reestablishing our legitimacy and our leadership with the international community and in undermining the forces of a radical ideology, I think it makes all the sense in the world, especially when it's married to real American power, which it needs to be.

MODERATOR:  I wish we had more time but since we don't --

EDWARDS:  I think we should take some more.

MODERATOR:  All right.  Well, your speech, though I was worried about so why don't we take another one or two.

EDWARDS:  The speech was long.  We should let people ask some ==


QUESTIONER:  Malcolm Wiener. 

Senator, some would say that your proposal that we should attempt to deter genocide and prevent Iraq from becoming a haven for al Qaeda by moving to bases in the Emirates and offshore is pure fantasyland.  As General Shinseki said, and you quoted, it would take hundreds of thousands of troops to be able to do that.  Once we have only a token force present, not only won't we have the capability to do anything of that sort but psychologically it will be impossible once we withdraw, and we're not going to send massive forces back.  What would you say to that?

EDWARDS:  I think it's a fair question.  I think -- here's my view.  I think as America withdraws our combat troops out of Iraq, the president of the United States has a responsibility to do several things in combination -- some of them I've talked about already -- to engage the Sunni and the Shi'a leadership, to engage the Iranians and the Syrians into helping stabilize Iraq.  But we clearly need to maintain a good presence, a strong presence in the region.  Afghanistan and Kuwait, I didn't mention this, but there's also the possibility of stationing troops in Jordan, having a Naval presence in the Persian Gulf.  I think all of those things are for the purpose of being able to react and react quickly.

Now, here's -- over the long term, I think there are two risks that most presidential candidates don't want to talk about, and that is that this goes to full-scale civil war, and secondly that genocide breaks out.  I think that without being overly specific, the president has a clear responsibility to prepare for both those things.  And while containing civil war historically has been a very difficult thing to do, there are strategies for dealing with it -- buffer zones around the borders, for example.  But I think we need a clear plan with our military leadership and with our friends in the international community to deal with that.

And then the hardest, I think, issue ultimately is the possibility of genocide breaking out, and we're not there anymore, and what do we do about it.  And this may be an example -- I wouldn't want to say in advance precisely what I would do as president, but it's something we would have to be prepared for.  I mean, for example, by way of comparison, I do not think we should put American troops on the ground in Darfur.  I think it would do more harm than good.  I think it would feed the notion that this is America's ongoing battle with Islam.  But there are things America can do in Darfur immediately.  We could enforce a no-fly zone, plus diplomatic and economic pressure on the Sudanese government and on the Chinese to bring their force to bear on this effort.

So that's an example of America doing things with the international community that doesn't necessarily require putting American combat troops on the ground.  But I think we have to be prepared for both those things, and I think the president of the United States has to be prepared for both.  I think it's irresponsible not to be prepared for both.

QUESTIONER:  Thank you.

EDWARDS:  You're welcome.

MODERATOR:  Do you want to take one more?

EDWARDS:  Oh, yeah, we could do that.  Let's do at least a couple of more.

MODERATOR:  Okay, let's see -- yes.

And then the next one should be the last one.


MODERATOR:  I think this is -- you can get in trouble running over here at the council, so I think this better be the last question.  But I'm sorry -- it was you, ma'am, in the sixth row there, yes.  Go ahead.

QUESTIONER:  Sheri Fink, Harvard School of Public Health.

I was just curious, your plans related to foreign assistance funds -- you talked about addressing the global AIDS crisis, and there's also the issue of human resources needed to address that in terms of health professionals on the ground in poor countries.  Do you have numbers in mind?  Do you want to change the approach that the current administration has taken?  What sort of specifics do you have on those two things?

EDWARDS:  What I am proposing is that as part of this effort to reestablish us as a force for good and to have moral authority that we engage in a group of things. Internally, that we create this new marshal corps which will give us 10,000 people who are well trained, experienced, who know how to work in failing or failed states and who are experienced in providing humanitarian assistance and retaining others under their direction to provide humanitarian assistance.  That should be combined with -- and the total cost for this, by the way, is $5 billion -- that should be combined with a series of other things; America leading an international effort to make primary school available in the places where it doesn't exist in the world.  And this is, to a large extent, in Africa; to a lesser extent but true in the Muslim world; and to a smaller extent in Latin America. 

And then I think America should put in excess of $1 billion into clean drinking water efforts and sanitation efforts that plays such a huge role, as you would know from your education, in the spread of disease, particularly in the Third World.  And then finally, I want to see us lead a serious effort on economic development focused on micro finance and micro lending which has been, at least over the past few years, has been extraordinarily successful.  So the idea is to create an infrastructure here at home that works for implementation of these ideas, and then have a broader policy agenda that works with that infrastructure.

MODERATOR:  Senator, today's speech was billed on your website as a major policy address.  Next time you come to the council, you can give a minor policy address, and we'll have more time for questions.  (Laughter.)

Please join me in thanking Senator Edwards.









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